Jacob Metcalf lives in a Volkswagen van that’s parked in the backyard of a friend’s house in Winnetka Heights. This van has no air conditioning, no heater. It’s not especially comfortable. But it serves a purpose. Metcalf is in training, he says. His musician father told him years ago that if he wanted to pursue a career in music, he had to be prepared to sleep on the floor of a bus. His dad didn’t realize he would take that advice so sincerely, Metcalf says. “I think he was a little surprised by that,” he says. Metcalf, who is a member of two local folk bands, has traveled extensively to foreign countries. And now he wants to see as much of the United States as he can. That’s part of what he’s training for. “I want to be able to tell people in other countries where they should go in the states,” he says. Aside from the roughing-it-life training, Metcalf is working on his first solo album, which he hopes will be released this coming summer.
The album has been a long time coming. “Almost everything begins at this log I’ve been keeping for 10 years,” he says. Take, for example, the six-month trip by bus through Mexico to Panama, including the weeks he spent camping with friends and playing cards every night. The time he was robbed and held captive south of the border. The semester he spent in Greece, when he traveled to Turkey, Egypt and Germany. The 15-day trip to India, when he had a fever of 105 and had to take a two-hour tuk-tuk ride to see a country doctor. All of that is in Metcalf’s journals, along with the mundane, the joyful, the heartbreaking, the everyday stories of people he meets. “I guess I never really sit down to write a song,” he says. “I’ll see a twist of words that I really like. Sometimes I play surgeon, and I suture passages together.” Other times, he is an abstractionist, making parts of his own stories simpler. When not playing shows with the Fox and the Bird or Dallas Family Band, Metcalf works as a private music teacher and as a baker at Emporium Pies. He doesn’t have a phone, although he uses Google voice. And he doesn’t have a car, favoring a second-hand Trek road bike. He is therefore less distracted than most people his age. It is a surprise to look up, after fiddling with an app on one’s iPhone, and find Metcalf smiling patiently, intently. He likes to study other performers, from folk singers and indie rockers to rappers, such as Kanye West. He wants to get down to the essence of what makes an amazing performance. He tries to book shows intermittently because he figures if his performances are more rare, audiences will be more curious. And he doesn’t like to perform sets that are longer than about an hour. “I always like to leave people wanting more,” he says. Metcalf performs at the Kessler Theater Dec. 30. He tours West Texas with the Fox and the Bird in January.